By Elizabeth Gonzalez
When I was younger, I was a rather immature and unfocused person. I had a low self-esteem and was needy. Though I had a good upbringing, two loving parents, and an extended family that was supportive, I, unlike my sisters just did not have the self-confidence they exhibited. This lead me down a road I sometimes would like to just forget. Nevertheless, as all things in life your past is always present no matter how far removed you are from it.
I was 23 years old at the time I met and married my then husband - an Egyptian Muslim. Of course, from the onset of that relationship I was continually encouraged to become a Muslim. During that time in my life I was disgruntled with Catholics, having been raised one. I felt there was too much hypocrisy in the church. That led me on a search of different Christian religions and even Judaism. However, I did not commit to any.
By the time, I married my ex-husband I agreed to become a Muslim. I went through the motions, but I could never believe that Jesus was "just a prophet". To me Jesus was and always will be the Son of God, the Messiah.
While in Egypt, then later in Saudi Arabia I witnessed how women were treated as second-class citizens. The stigmatization of women who were either never married and or divorced. The "rules" about a woman coming and going too much - you know like wanting to visit a neighbor twice a week for coffee and chats-more than twice a month in Egypt a woman is suspected of not taking care of her home or being loose. The litany goes on with all the little idiosyncrasies ascribed to women in the Middle East in so much as what they can and cannot do-or I should say are allowed or not allowed to do.
I could not visit Israel with my Aunt when she visited her best friend who worked for the American Consulate in Cairo, because if I did I would be denied entry into Saudi Arabia where my then husband was working. I was told I would be denied entry if my passport was stamped with the Israeli insignia. Sadly, I could not go and I was so, so close. For that I am forever disappointed and saddened.
I was left to live in Egypt with my then in-laws in Port Said, Egypt while my ex-husband worked in Saudi Arabia and applied for my visa to live there with him. I was continually told by my then in-laws how I was not a "good Muslim" and worse. I was told this because I refused to wear a scarf on my head and I did not pray five times a day.
My then sister-in-law actually asked me if her brother found me in the street or the garbage because they know "all" American women are not virgins and whores. Fortunately or unfortunately for me, depending on how you look at this, I learned to speak Arabic so I knew exactly what was being said to me and about me.
While in Egypt, I became severely depressed. In a matter of three months, I went from 120 pounds down to 95 pounds. I could barely eat, not by choice, but I had no appetite for food. I drank a lot of tea and smoked like a fiend. I became so out of touch with reality that I did not even realize I was three months pregnant with my second child until I passed out one day.
When my visa to travel to Saudi Arabia was authorized, I then went to live there. That was another story all together. I lived not far from the American compound of Aramco between Al-Khobar, where I lived at the time, and Dammam. I had to wear the hijab (A hijab is when your body and face are completely covered. Some variations are slits for the eyes so the woman can see, but in Saudi Arabia, this was not allowed so you had to wear a black chiffon scarf over the face so the eyes could not be seen through the slits- I likened it to seeing through very dark sunglasses). I had heard that American women who did not wear the hijab were beaten by police on their legs. I also heard many stories of American women disappearing and being taken into "harems" by "friends of the Royal Family" or "members of the Royal Family" and being continually raped, then killed once "used up." I became fearful for my life while I lived in Saudi Arabia.
I myself at one point was "almost raped" when I was seven months pregnant with my second child. We were visiting my ex-husbands boss at his chalet. I asked to use the bathroom and he said he would show me where it was. My ex-husband obviously trusted him as he allowed him to direct me to where the bathroom was. When I opened the door of the bathroom, my ex-husbands boss was blocking the door and then tried to accost me sexually. I ran away and went outside where my ex-husband was sitting and said nothing to him. I could not say anything at the time because if I did I could have been jailed. That is how it is in Saudi Arabia.
When we arrived home later that evening, I told my ex-husband what happened. Fortunately, that was one of the few, and I mean few times he stood up for me. He left his position at the company to work for another company and that was the end of that. Nothing was ever reported to the police. It was not talked about. However, I did almost have a miscarriage due to the shock and trauma it caused me. I was in such bad shape the doctors actually had to order special medicine for me from Bahrain that I had to take for the remainder of my pregnancy so I would not miscarry.
These are just some of the things I experienced while living in the Middle East. If I wanted to, I could really write a book. Perhaps I will one day, but not today. I still have a hard time dealing with the many things I experienced while in the Middle East at the hands of some very evil people who thought they were doing "good in the name of Islam."
It would be unfair of me not to tell you that I did not meet many wonderful men and women who were good, kind, and generous. Ironically, these people did treat me so much better than my then husband and his family.
By the time I came back to the United States I literally kissed the ground at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago. I was so thrilled, happy, grateful, and appreciative to be home. After some more years of a tumultuous and violent relationship with my ex-husband, I finally could not allow myself to pretend to be a Muslim out of fear of reprisal. I spoke up and told him that I was a Christian and that I believed Jesus was not only the Son of God, but also my Lord and Savior. I then divorced him.
Unfortunately, the divorce was ugly and my family became divided. My children from that marriage live with their father because they share his Muslim beliefs. For me it is bitter sweet. They are my children whom I love dearly, more than my life, but several of them believe I am a Muslim hater and that I abandoned them, which was never the case. Nevertheless, like all true Muslims do, they first brainwash you - then pollute you with their hate.
I could not become a Muslim because I believe in Jesus - I could not deny that He is the Son of God - I could not deny that there was no way to the Father except through Jesus. Like it is said in Proverbs, "Train up a child in the way that he should go and he will not depart from it."
Yes, like the prodigal child, I wandered, but in the end, I did not depart from the core beliefs my parents taught me as a child. For that, I thank God.